I know a lot about black. I know a lot about evil. I thought I’d seen the evilest black imaginable; but I didn’t have enough imagination.
I was inTucsonclosing on the sale of my townhouse, one of the last remnants of my pre-investigator house, and making the grand tour of friends I’d see a whole lot less over the next few years. I was going to miss Tucson. It’s the kind of place for a color-blind guy, where even the colors are faded to a bare notch over the grays that make up my palate. So my Ansel Adams eye view of the world probably isn’t that far from the real thing. And I’m going to miss the red neck small town-ness of the place. Probably was going to be erased from the memory banks before I get back. Then again, maybe not.
I was having supper outdoors with Mike and Karen and their two boys, enjoying the darkening gray sky as the already set sun backlit a bank of striated clouds, just over theTucsonMountains. Mike lives about six miles outside the city limits, on the northwestern corner of theSaguaroNational Monument. East of him is just cow country, coyotes, out to who knows where, maybeNew Mexico.
The discussion had denigrated to politics, like it usually did. We were talking about freedom, the personal kind, and how the government was chipping away at it every day. Then the coyotes started yapping, and a dog howled with pain. It wasn’t so unusual, until the scream, a human scream. Mike rushed into the house, unlocked the safe and removed two pistols. The dog had stopped, but the screaming continued. We wove in and out of the forest of cactus for half a mile until we breached the top of the dry wash. There were six or eight coyotes circling something. Mike shot his pistol into the ground. The coyotes stopped, looked our way. He shot again and they were gone, like ghosts into another dimension.
There seemed to be bodies everywhere. A half-dozen girls and boys, late teens, their hands and feet were bound, their mouths duct-taped, their throats cut. The blood had soaked into the ground, but the odor was unmistakable. One of the bodies had teeth marks. I could see where a coyote had dragged it across the sand.
“Over here, CB,” Mike called.
She was on her knees, the head of the whimpering dead dog in her lap. She wasn’t screaming, just sobbing below the level of sound. Or maybe I couldn’t hear her over the rush of blood in my ears. Her dead eyes pointed towards the bodies. I patted her shoulder and said it would be okay. Yeah, right. I didn’t know what else to say. She was twelve, maybe thirteen. She’d never forget. And it wasn’t going to be okay.
There wasn’t anything I could do for the girl. I went back to the teens. I put my fingers to the dark sand. The black blood was still wet. They’d been killed while we enjoyed our meal. One of the girls was naked. She might have been very beautiful once, but it’s hard to look good when you’re dead. She’d been badly abused There was drying white fluid on her face. Killer’s evidence.
They had all been good-looking kids, the ‘in’ kind. I scanned the scene. It was a bowl-like area, with lots of footprints, and logs cut and set up like chairs in a large circle. There was white powder on the sand. It looked like cocaine, but what do I know. It could be sugar. I looked at three of the kids. The white powder marked their noses, their fingers. Nobody was sniffing sugar this year.
I returned to Mike. “You all right?”
He nodded his head, but he didn’t mean it.
“Go call the cops. I’ll keep the coyotes away.”
He was out of there as fast as his short legs would take him, pull the young girl behind him.
I sat on one of the logs. I wondered. I know some mean people. I know some really horrible people. I didn’t know any people like this. Well, maybe a kid I helped nab once who killed two young girls. Yes, he was this mean, but there was only one of him. This had to be a pack of them, like coyotes, only human, maybe.
It tugged at the corner of my consciousness. There was something missing, something ubiquitous. Earrings. None of the kids had earrings, but they all had the gray holes. Souvenirs.
I wanted to go after them. I knew I could find the trail. The cops would be really pissed. But they might still be out there, watching, savoring their little thrill. I put the gun in my pocket and headed back the way I’d come, to the edge of the arroyo. I made a large loop until I found the tracks of the kids who’d been killed. I jumped over those and continued.
It was another fifty yards along the wide arc. The outlines were indistinct in the sand and rock. Four people, from the size of the feet, males, had gone in and come out. They wore hiking boots. I knew where they’d been, so I turned to find where they’d gone. My running shoes made no noise as I quickly moved along side their trail. It went on for more three miles. At its end the path rose up into a tony setting of new half-million dollar homes and rich landscaping. If I remembered right, it was a restricted community for eggheads and academicians. No uneducated CEOs, no pharmacists who’d made it big, no lucky lottery winners, no aspiring plumbers. No, just the my-shit-don’t-stink-cause-I’m-smarter-than-you set and, oh, of course, the killers. I know that kind of people with their lives built on a shifting moral sand. Is it any wonder such spawn should rise among them like a predictable disease. The police weren’t going to get any cooperation there.
I returned to the murder scene. The cops were there, and the evidence guys, and the medical examiners. About twenty in all. The lead homicide detective, Jesse Wallace, gave me some grief, just because she could. But we have a history, so it was more for shoe, she didn’t really mean it. I told her about the earrings.
I was right, of course, the police got no cooperation. Sure, they had shoe prints, but nothing to match them to, and anyway, no one invited them in to do so. By morning there were more lawyers in the development than houses. Their rights were being protected, but it wasn’t like any judge could give them a warrant without knowing a whole lot more. No, these people, they knew their rights. Anyway, it can’t be my son, but just in case …
Me, I’ve got nothing against rich people. I’m a member of the same club, I just don’t wear it where anyone can see it. No, it’s not being rich that bothered me, it’s the thinking that the laws of the lower classes don’t apply to them. Fact of the matter was, these eggheads were just like everyone else, maybe even a little dumber than the others, in the ways of the world, how it worked outside of the ivied walls. I figured that oblivious dumbness was passed onto the next generation in a form of moral blindness.
So, every night I sat out there from dusk to sunrise. When they didn’t show, I extended my stay for a week. It wasn’t like I was going to leave until I had them.
It was nine days after the killing. They just couldn’t leave it be, they had to revel in it one more time. They danced around where it happened. One of the boys slipped two earrings in his ears, held a knife to his own throat and made like he was sucking for all he was worth while bucking his hips. He was laughing it up when I shot him in the knee. Another shot and the others ran, but I only needed one of them. I knew Mike heard the shots, and the police would be there soon.
The boy was curled up, holding his shattered knee to his chest. I kicked him in the knee as I pushed him on his back. He screamed. I pointed the gun at his head, but killing was too good for him, too good for any of them. I don’t know what made me smile, but it really scared the kid. He kicked at me with his good leg and started to crawl, leaving a black trail of blood behind him, marking the presence of evil. He wasn’t going far. Me, I waited for the cops.
They got all four of them. Jesse and I talked about it, she didn’t mention my name to the media. She told me they were really close to breaking it. I love her, but I didn’t believe it. Me, I couldn’t wait, I’m not made that way. So Jesse got the credit. I wanted her to have it. I was in the police station when the others were brought in, the clamoring parents trailing behind them, aggressively defiant while wondering where they went wrong. I could see it in their eyes, they’d already known it was their kids. I guess you’ve got to set yourself really high above it all to care so little about truth, justice.
It was big news for a long time. Mike would paste me articles on the internet to keep me up with the story. The parents couldn’t beat the DNA evidence. They tried insanity, but that go no traction either. No one ever found out the why of it. The most Jesse ever got for a reason was when one of the kids said, “After we killed the girl, well we had to kill them all. You know what I mean?” Eventually the seventeen year-olds avoided the death penalty. They got life with no chance of parole. It was the worse thing that could happen to them. It was justice.